WHEN Caroline Lynch from Quin married lively Dubliner Chris Byrne on June 28, 2013, building a dream home in the Banner County was always part of their plan.
The Ringsend native was “larger than life”, says Caroline, and made a big impression on her native village. He found common ground with everyone he met and always had a friendly word. When we’d go out to the pub in Quin, everyone was like: ‘There’s Chris,’ whereas they hardly noticed me and I’m the native!” she smiles.
While this year, Caroline is fulfilling the dream of raising her family in Clare, she’ll be doing it without her soul-mate, after losing Chris to an aggressive form of brain cancer in the Spring of 2016.
Now, her rocks of support are her parents Ann and Des, her five-year-old son Harry, and a wide circle of relatives and friends. But she admits that the void left by Chris’s death has left her feeling “robbed” of the life the couple had hoped to have together. In a testament to her strength of character and her devotion to Chris, Caroline is getting set for the premier, in Ennis, of a documentary about her late husband – much of which was filmed in the lead-up to his untimely passing.
The film, produced by the couple’s best man Lorcan Fox, will debut at Glór next Tuesday night, and details Chris’s views on life and death, as well as exploring the wider cultural context of coping with grief and loss.
Described by Caroline as “a big strong man,” Chris was enjoying life as a new dad towards the end of 2014, when he got the first inkling that there could be a problem with his health. The couple’s new baby Harry was just a few weeks old and Chris had taken a welcome opportunity to fit in a gym session.
“He collapsed during the training session,” Caroline recalls, “but we didn’t think much of it. Even when he called me from hospital, he was laughing it off and put it down to the fact he hadn’t eaten.” There was also the belief that the new dad might not be getting enough sleep.
Follow-up tests revealed a more sinister picture, however. Chris had had a ‘grand mal’ seizure caused by a grade-two brain tumour.
With characteristic courage, the couple faced into the prospect of surgery and rehabilitation. “There was a good likelihood that, with some treatment, Chris would be able to go back to work and continue life as normal. The medical team were great.”
Surgery went well but the following hours revealed that Chris had had further seizures and had to be put into an induced coma.
“It was tough to see him like that,’ Caroline admits. “It was a roller coaster. Harry was only five weeks old at this stage. My parents were fantastic and my mother gave up work and moved to Dublin.”
Coming up to Christmas, Chris’s health hung in the balance, as an infection of the brain was confirmed. He had lost the power of speech and movement on the right side of his body. The Lynch and Byrne families maintained a bedside vigil at Beaumont Hospital.
Over the coming weeks, through sheer determination, Chris clawed back the faculties that the tumour and subsequent infection had taken from him. “He persisted and persisted,” says Caroline. “He pushed himself and got 95 percent of his speech and 80 percent of his mobility back. It was through absolute determination and he astonished people.”
A talented singer, Chris took readily to music therapy after securing a place at the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dun Laoighre. “That’s how he got his speech back. He was a great singer.”
Having recovered sufficiently to join a family holiday in Portugal, Chris was able to finally enjoy some time with his young son, but the prospect of further medical treatment remained.
After the trip, tests showed something else on Chris’s brain. Chris had a biopsy in June and results showed in incurable and aggressive brain cancer.
“That was a massive shock. Chemotherapy and radiotherapy started straight away, but I think we were still in denial a bit over Chris’s chances.”
The impact of the therapies was severe and, heartbreakingly, Chris began to lose the power of speech he had worked so hard to regain.
“It was a very difficult situation for us. Naturally, Chris felt depressed and angry.”
A glimmer of hope around this time came when Chris and film-marker Lorcan began the work that was to become a feature-length documentary.
The close friends recorded a day-long interview at the couple’s home in Lucan.
“Chris was incredibly intelligent and read books on all kinds of subjects. The interview touched on so many topics, on Chris’s own life and his views, as well as hopes for the future.”
Towards the end of that year Chris’s health took a turn for the worst.
“Chris was very unwell around Christmas 2015. The seizures were more regular,’ Caroline recalls. “Cancer was taking over the brain.”
At this point, Chris was given twelve months to live, a devastating prognosis. Chris got to spend that Christmas in Clare, but broke a bombshell to his family saying he would no longer continue his treatment.
“He felt it wasn’t working, but as it turned out, his condition meant he was no longer strong enough for the treatment. We moved then to palliative support, but I realise now I was still in complete denial that this was end-of-life care. It just never clicked with me.”
Chris was transferred to a hospice, surrounded by family and friends.
“I have an uncle, Flan Lynch who is a Capuchin priest. He used to come in every day, and Chris loved those visits.
“On the day that Chris passed, Flan said it was time to say Mass. I suppose he knew how close the end was. Chris was at complete peace before he passed way, he was ready.”
The grief that followed Chris’s death caused Caroline to hide away for a time., but the move to Clare lived on as a shared dream.
“I stayed in Dublin for almost three years after Chris died. You isolate yourself a bit, I suppose,” she admits. “Dublin’s a big place. To raise a child and keep a full-time job is difficult. Before he died, Chris told me he wanted me to continue with the plan we had to build a home in Clare. I wanted Harry to have a structure to his day and a routine, like every other child.
Harry is now a pupil in the national school in Quin and looking forward to a move into his new home, though thoroughly enjoying his time with granny and granddad.
“Harry is every bit of Chris from the tops of his toes to the tips of his fingers. He loves to absorb information. He’s a great little singer. He’s extremely like him, it’s uncanny.”
While Harry won’t be attending the premier next Tuesday night, Caroline anticipates the film will be a wonderful way for him to remember his late father. For Caroline, the premier at glór will be the first time she sees the completed film and she admits she’s nervous.
“It’s full of different perspectives from Chris’s family and his medical team. It’s a celebration and he would have loved it. It’s called ‘Git was Here’ and that really intrigues people. Git is a nickname in Dublin for anyone called Christopher. I suppose it’s apt. He was here and he made his mark.”
’Git was Here’ will premier at glór in Ennis on Tuesday, November 12 at 7pm. The Dublin premier will take place the Sugar Club on November 24.